The best one can hope for, as you learn from reading Finnegan’s new memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, is to escape unscathed with a few lessons learned. Like the time he was tripping too hard on acid to successfully surf a freak swell at Oahu’s Honolua Bay. Or when he surfed a muddy Fijian river mouth dubbed a “shark pit” by locals, a salient fact he picked up only after the fact. “But I’m normally looking for something short of that,” he adds. “Good waves, a good story, without a foolhardy degree of trusting to luck.”
With Barbarian Days, Finnegan masterfully weaves his personal experiences into a narrative that is alternately harrowing and anthropological. He recalls “surprisingly cosmopolitan” conversations with locals in the Samoan village of Sala’ilua, and makes a case for how 1968’s shortboard revolution mirrored the zeitgeist of the draft-dodging, psychedelic times. And because any surfer worth his wax comb knows that boasting of one’s exploits is an affront to the sport’s ethos, Finnegan takes a gripping warts-and-all approach to his story.
- William Finnegan surveys the waves in Grajagan, Java, in 1979.
- From left to right: Bryan Di Salvatore, Viti Savaiinaea and William Finnegan in Sala’ilua, Savai’i, Western Samoa, in 1978.
- Finnegan on the path to the water at Kulamanu house in 1966
Photographer Joni Sternbach doesn’t surf, but she’s a longtime student of the sport. Her new collection, Surf Site Tin Type, positions the sport against our primordial past—reaffirmation of our long-removed evolutionary roots as creatures of the sea.
And while Finnegan is a born-and-raised member of the surf scene, Sternbach brings the perspective of an outsider, albeit one with a great vantage point. She lives in Montauk and is a fixture among the local surf scene. “My observations are made from what you might call ‘fieldwork,’” she says.
HANS ASCHIM is a New York City–based writer and editor. His work spans design, travel and culture with a focus on the outdoors. Always seeking adventure, he splits his time between the city, the mountains and the beach.
WILLIAM FINNEGAN’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life will be published by Penguin Press in July 2015.
JONI STERNBACH’s Surf Site Tin Type is out now from Artbook.
- SURF SITE TIN TYPE PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF JONI STERNBACH
- BARBARIAN DAYS: A SURFING LIFE PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF WILLIAM FINNEGAN